Scottish compositor poets and the typographical trade press, 1850-1880

David Finkelstein*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Past studies of the pulsing dynamism of the Chartist movement and its poets active between 1838-1848 have either ignored print trade workers or categorised them as members of the 'labour aristocracy': privileged, skilled, conservative figures at one remove from class based struggles, intent on protecting trade guild privileges. Yet, creative compositor poets did utilise their talents to engage with issues of social reform, welfare, educational aspirations and civic nationalism subsequent to the ebbing of Chartist inspired creative writing. Poetry featured in Scottish print trade journals of the mid-to late-nineteenth century in ways that suggested a strong engagement with an enfranchised labouring class, focused on civic nationalism, citizenship, union politics and self-improvement. This piece examines such themes in the work of three Scottish compositor poets (Alexander Smart, James Smith and Robert Brough) who featured in the Scottish Typographical Circular from the late 1850s through to the late 1870s as de facto poets in residence. Though forgotten now, during their lifetimes they were lauded as 'labour laureates', speaking of and to the Scottish labouring classes in general, and to print trade colleagues in particular, and writing in the Scottish vernacular.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-69
Number of pages23
JournalScottish Literary Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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